The Chinese government is allowing the media to report on unrest in the hope it can manage the impact of bad news, Reuters has reported.
The decision appears to be a response to protests and disorder around the country, and to the speed at which stories spread on the internet.
Unusually detailed coverage of incidents such as a mass riot in Weng’an, Guizhou this summer – when 30,000 people took to the streets – has been published. There have been several articles this week about protests in Gansu and Chongqing, and today Xinhua reported on a mass petition by 400 people outside government offices in Beijing.
"The Chinese government has started to loosen its control on the negative information," an academic source close to propaganda authorities told Reuters.
"They are trying to control the news by publicising the news.
"The central government has permitted local authorities to publicise negative news themselves, with no need to report to upper governments any more.
"They have a principle of ‘report the facts quickly, but be cautious on the causes behind the facts’."
Tight controls on reporting mean that even when the media is initially allowed to cover a subject in detail, it is often reined in later.
There was unprecedented coverage of the May earthquake in Sichuan, but after a week or so questions about sensitive issues such as why so many schools collapsed were deemed off limits.
A blackout on bad news during the Beijing Olympics in August contributed to the delayed reporting of milk tainted with melamine that ultimately killed at least four babies and hospitalised thousands.
But the regime is finding that the internet can spread information – or rumours – as fast as censors can delete comments.
A party official told Reuters: "It’s almost impossible to block anything nowadays when information can spread very quickly on the Internet.
"We also noticed that it will benefit us if we report the news first."
Last week, Xinhua reported that Li Changchun, China’s propaganda chief and one of nine members of the Politburo standing committee, had urged China’s media to report "more original, timely and popular stories" and to enhance their domestic and international influence.